Many of us remember being trained in our youngest days, even before we could speak, to say, “Please,” and “Thank you.” When a child learns that saying or signing, “Thank you” is expected and delights their parents they are most often happy to oblige. At some point, however, children reach a point where their visible expression of thanksgiving is sometimes nothing more than a feigned obedience. This is because everyone of us are born as self-centered sinners.
It’s not offensive to consider this reality in the lives of infants, because even with their half-hearted obedience they are often still quite cute. You might even say that as long as their selfish response isn’t offensive or embarrassing, we aren’t put off by it. Of course, this reveals an even greater issue to be aware of.
We know feigned obedience all too well because everyone of us is guilty of it from time to time. The dead giveaways may be a rolling of the eyes, a deep sigh, shoulders that have sunk down, or a smile plastered on our face which dissipates the moment we turn away. In fact, we can become so skilled at feigned obedience it requires little to no effort.
Why is this, and why do we sometimes fake being thankful? Oh, I’m not referring to the culturally appointed time when we spend the weekend with those we love, eat until we’re stuffed, and watch football or play games through the evening knowing we have a day to recover from our hedonism.
From Genesis through Revelation the Lord tells us to be thankful and to express that gratitude for his kindness and provision in a variety of ways. In Genesis 4 both Cain and Abel brought offerings to the Lord, but Cain brought his offering with an expectation of God’s approval, rather than simply bringing an offering out of thanksgiving. God preferred Abel’s offering over Cain’s, so “Cain was very angry, and his face fell.” (Ge 4:6)
Cain’s physical expression is proof that his innermost desire was unmet by God. The result? Deep anger the precipitated murder. In Matthew 12:33-37 and 15:10-20 Jesus affirms that our outward expression is evidence of what’s transpiring in one’s heart.
God gives a biblical imperative—a command—in 1 Thess. 5:18 and Eph. 5:20 to give thanks always in every circumstance. How is your heart doing in your thanksgiving? Joyful? Generous? Quick to obey? Reluctant? Laden with expectation of something in return? Absent due to a variety of self-justifying reasons?
If you do well give thanks to God! But none of us does well all the time in every circumstance.
So, what is the cure for feigned thanksgiving? See grace! Grace from God who gives every person and joy we have (and yes, every trial as well). Every aspect of our lives is crafted to glorify God by teaching us to love Jesus more than any other pleasure.
The many imperatives we have in Scripture to give thanks are the loving prescription of the Great Physician of the soul. The Father is helping us cultivate lives of thankfulness. Be thankful for this.